Agile Businesses: Jarrod Johnson Of TaskUs On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be constantly innovating and thinking about your product or service and its value. You should always be thinking about how to make things better, easier, faster, more valuable — not just in times of disruption but always.

As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jarrod Johnson, Chief Customer Officer at TaskUs.

Jarrod Johnson is the Chief Customer Officer at TaskUs. Jarrod leads the “Client Organization” at TaskUs, including global marketing, sales, client services (account management), their portfolio of global offerings, and the consulting organization.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I spent ten years at IBM starting in technology consulting then moved into sales and account management roles. I became a market leader managing $100M in annual sales to Dallas-based retail and travel clients. Then I moved over to another large technology company that we sold to Xerox. I spent some time growing my career there, eventually becoming an SVP and Group President of IT Services.

After 16 years of working with large companies, I wanted to try something different. I wanted the experience of finding a $100 million dollar business and making it a billion dollar business. In 2016, I found the right business that was poised for growth, and joined TaskUs.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I made many mistakes in my early career, but there’s one that sticks out. When I first came out of college, I was starting as a consultant at IBM. At the time, there was a new fashion trend of square toed dress shoes. I needed new shoes for my job, so I decided to buy some.

Never have I made it so obvious that I was the youngest on the team than when I wore those. Everyone else was wearing traditional dress shoes, and here I was, wearing a trend. It even became a joke on my team — they would say, “Don’t bring me a bunch of square toes. I want the seasoned people.”

It taught me not to jump on a trend quickly, and to evaluate options before just going with what’s popular now.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My mother is an incredible influence on my life. She was a very senior executive at several big companies, including Ernst and Young, CapGemini and Cognizant. While others found their coaches at work or school, I was born with the best executive coach available. Throughout my career, she has been someone I can bounce ideas off of and come to for genuine advice. No one could ask for a better mentor.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

The original vision was that busy professionals would outsource tasks in their personal lives to people around the world who could do things better and cheaper, allowing the professionals to better manage their time and create personal freedom, such as in Tim Ferris’ “Four Hour Work Week.” That turned out to be a very tricky business to grow and do well and the TaskUs of today was born. We set out to work with technology startups and founders in Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach to help them scale their business rapidly, doing anything they needed more efficiently than they could do it themselves so they could focus on their core business.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?

TaskUs provides digital outsourcing services to high growth technology brands around the world, including some of the largest technology brands. We’re a business process outsourcing (BPO) services and innovation company that delivers ridiculously good solutions to our clients. TaskUs serves clients in the fastest-growing sectors, including social media, e-commerce, gaming, streaming media, food delivery, and ride-sharing, HiTech, FinTech, and HealthTech. Our services help companies quickly grow and scale through outsourced digital services and next-generation customer experience.

Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?

Artificial intelligence has made everything we do faster and smarter. It’s also taken away a lot of the simple, task-based work that used to drive our industry. Instead, it’s left behind a world of complex problems. That has actually created an opportunity for the services industry to become more valuable, because humans are critical to solving complexity. In the future, you’ll see more of a combination human and AI approach to how work gets done.

Cloud technology significantly changed the game. It lowered the cost of entry for people to start creating technology and solutions. You don’t have to have tons of capital to build anymore. That opened the door for our company, but it also opened the door for competitors.

What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?

We were unique in that we started our company as some of these disruptions were already happening. From the start, we’ve been a web-based company, and we grew up on the cloud. Everything we’ve done has been over the Internet, and it’s been a big advantage; lower cost to build and faster speed to market.

Especially in 2020, being cloud-based was an incredible head start. We were able to quickly send people home, get work done and not lose productivity. Without knowing it, we were preparing our company to thrive in remote scenarios.

We’ve also doubled down on people. The human factor is so important to our business, and we realize that the best way to have the top people is to invest in them. It’s not enough to just have a good culture. When we were a young company, having a great culture and a ton of passion went a long way. Now, with 45,000 people around the globe, we need more to keep that passion alive.

We built extensive programs around wellness, benefits and diversity and inclusion. It’s been an important pivot away from a culture approach, to a holistic people-first approach. Culture is still important, but we also have real programs that affect people in tangible ways.

Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.

The moment for me was when I saw the flywheel effect of investing in people happening in real time. The flywheel effect happens when small wins accumulate over time, creating a snowball of successes. That happened with our people.

When you invest in people, they do better work. Talent chooses to stay with you, their performance improves, and eventually the performance of whole teams is improved. These changes make your clients happier, making them invest more in your business. The company becomes more profitable. Then, you can afford to invest more into the next people program, and it continues.

The investments in people quickly pay off for your customers. It was actually surprising how fast we saw real results. It created a better environment for our employees, better service for our clients and better results for our shareholders.

So, how are things going with this new direction?

We’ve been incredibly successful with this new direction. TaskUs has experienced exponential growth. We’re now approximately 45,800 employees across 23 locations in 12 countries and we went public on Nasdaq in June of 2021.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?

I was surprised to see the number of clients who cared about the people doing the work for them at TaskUs. When you think about outsourcing, it’s often all about numbers and outcomes. While we care deeply about our people, we weren’t sure our clients thought much about it. What we found is that when you highlight your culture and your people as an asset, it’s phenomenal the response you will get from clients.

They have really bought into our mission, and appreciate that we’ve created a company that they would want to work at, too. Being people-first has actually helped us secure some of the best companies in the world as clients.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?

Stay calm and have a vision. There’s always going to be bumps and uncertainties in the road. You can see that in the market right now, we saw them 2 years ago when the pandemic began, and there were plenty of bumps before that when we were much smaller. When you, as a leader, stay calm and keep your team focused on the long-term vision, it keeps the company moving forward and staying the course. It can be easy to get distracted, and there’s nothing worse for progress than a distracted team.

There are things you can control and things you can’t. Stay focused on what you can, plot the path forward, measure your success and progress and go from there.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

We overcommunicate to our people. Transparency, honesty and humility are the best ways to lead. Even if you don’t know what to say, if you communicate and are transparent with people, they will be generally understanding. Saying nothing at all is generally worse.

You want to keep people believing. If they still believe, you can calm everything down and keep moving.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Stay true to your core values and stick to what you’re good at. That tends to weather any storm. Sometimes you need to make a major pivot to adjust to the times, but often, things are temporary or small fluctuations in the market. The strongest survive and thrive in these circumstances.

Be true to yourself and consistent and clear with the market, and you will be in a better position to survive turbulence.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

While you should recognize and respond to true disruption, don’t make mistakes by overreacting.

Stay on your path and execute your plan — if the plan needs adjustment, then adjust it. Don’t lose focus because you see a shiny object.

Be thoughtful about emerging technology. People often fall for hyped up trends. Don’t give in to the chaos. You absolutely must have a plan for emerging and growth markets and product or service line extensions but it should be a plan and not a reaction.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies?

  1. Know your market.
  2. Talk to your customers… a lot
  3. Talk to your employees… a lot. Especially those on the front line delivering service or creating your products
  4. Give clear and concise direction in the face of challenge and change
  5. Be constantly innovating and thinking about your product or service and its value. You should always be thinking about how to make things better, easier, faster, more valuable — not just in times of disruption but always.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

John Stuart Mill wrote about the concept of there being no “absolute truth”, and that truth is found through consistent debate and even things we know are true need to be challenged and confirmed every once in a while. As a former political science student, that is one of my big personal philosophies.

Creating dialogues, exploring topics and having debates can help find a lot of clarity. Be open to those conversations when it comes to solving problems, and it might lead you to the best outcomes.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow TaskUs on Twitter and Instagram at @TaskUs, and follow me on LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Agile Businesses: Jarrod Johnson Of TaskUs On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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